Innovations in Insulation

By: Branden Schroeder

It's no secret that energy efficiency is a good idea. It wastes money, electricity and resources to have an energy inefficient home. Therefore, insulating your home is very important to saving money on your heating and cooling bills, and earning you "green points" towards environmental protection.

There have also been a lot of breakthroughs in insulation lately. As people look for an alternative to fiberglass insulation, common and new technologies are coming into use. Fiberglass insulation is fine when used safely, and can do a good job in a well sealed and dry home. However, more and more evidence is showing that long-term health is compromised when the tiny glass fibres imbed in peoples skin or lungs. Further, fiberglass insulation is notorious for allowing mold to grow. So it is no wonder that new insulation solutions are coming out.

The silica foam that has been developed by NASA is an amazing insulation specifically suited to transparent surfaces. For example, it is used in skylights and solariums to prevent heat loss through glass. It is an amazing material, and a very powerful insulator, made of 99 percent air.

Spray-in foams are great because they can coat any surface, fill in tiny gaps, and they work for virtually any type of wall. However some of these off-gas a lot of chemicals, and therefore have a strongly negative impact on interior air quality. Some, however, are water-driven, which means they don't contain, or release, airborne chemicals once cured, and are far less toxic during installation.

Some of the insulations gaining popularity are far from new technologies. Cotton and wool batting are being used more and more. While wool is less readily available in the U.S., what could be more American than insulation from recycled denim? There is a product like this on the market, made from waste-scraps left over from jean manufacture. It is formaldehyde-free and treated with a natural fire-retardant. It is also completely recyclable.

Another interesting product is a hemp and flax fiber insulation. This product is apparently excellent at moderating environmental moisture, so it can evaporate and not get trapped in the walls. It is all natural, with an all natural fire-retardant. Also, hemp apparently is naturally pest-resistant. I won't go into the perceived controversy surrounding hemp. I'll just say that Henry Ford once made a car of hemp oil-based plastic, designed to run on hemp-oil fuel. It was once a very common fibre, used for ropes and sails on the ships that brought settlers to America. It is obviously a useful fibre.

It is exciting to see what is becoming available in the more environmentally-friendly building market. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and I suspect we will be seeing more and more of such products.

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